Constantine Cavafy

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The Best Poems by Constantine P. Cavafy You Should Read

Constantine P. Cavafy, one of the most important Greek poets of all times, was born and died in Alexandria on the day of his birthday and he is definitely the most significant intellectual figure of the city. He was the ninth and last child of Petros Cavafy, a wealthy merchant with Byzantine roots. His works can be divided into three categories: the philosophical poems, the erotic poems and the (pseudo)historical poems.
Ithaca
Ithaka is a philosophical poem, influenced by the Homeric epos (saga) and the adventures of Odysseus on his trip to Ithaka as you can tell even by reading its title. Ithaka is used by Cavafy as a symbol of our goals that actually shape the meaning of our life. With a didactic intention hidden in the form of an internal monologue, he does not attempt to define life but approach and describe it in an interactive way.
As Much As You Can
As Much As You Can is an important lesson about the meaning of human dignity and self-respect that every person should be aware of. The poet was always careful and selective with his personal life and social contacts, and in this poem he actually summarizes his attitude towards the social aspect of human existence: people cannot always control the results of their actions, the success of their behavior and may fail; what they can control – and therefore is more important – is their very personal life, their own self.
Walls
The poet makes a personal yet universal confession about the walls that bring suffocation to his life. These walls are related to the social structure, the economy, religion and much more. The worst thing is not the existence of these walls, of these limitations of the free development but the fact that the walls were created before us, so we cannot even notice their existence and fight against them.
The God Abandons Antony
This historical poem of Cavafy follows the norm of Cavafy’s historical poems, using the example of one specific (not famous) historical example as a symbol of timeless values. In this case, Antony is the symbol of the people who fought their whole life in order to make their dreams come true and at one point faced complete failure and loss. This is the moment where, according to the poet, a strong person must face all difficulties and challenges with dignity and self-respect, not meaningless mourning and sense of humiliation.

The City
Τhis symbolic poem refers to an anonymous ghost city that operates as a symbol of deadlock, failure, disappointment, pain. This city is the recognition of life itself, fate, our actions, their consequences and, most important, our moral responsibility before this fundamental reality that shapes us.
By Evangelos Tsirmpas
http://www.theculturetrip.com

YANNIS RITSOS-SELECTED POEMS/TRANSLATED BY MANOLIS ALIGIZAKIS

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Yannis Ritsos – Poems

A careful hand is needed to translate the poems of Yannis Ritsos, and Manolis is the ideal poet to undertake such an enormous task. Born in Crete, Manolis’s youth was intermingled with the poetry of Ritsos. Once a young man moved by the Theodorakis version of Epitaphios, he’s now a successful poet in his own right who is still moved to tears hearing the refrains of those notes from half a century ago. His Greek heritage, with its knowledge of the terrain, people, history and cultural themes, makes his translation all the more true to what Ritsos intended. Having visited the very places of which Ritsos wrote, he knows how the light and sea shift, and how Ritsos imagined those changes as being a temperament and personality of the Greece itself. The parallels in their lives are uncanny: when Ritsos was imprisoned, Manolis’ father also was imprisoned on false charges. Both men dealt with the forces of dictators and censorship, and experienced the cruel and unreasoning forces of those times. In fact, they even lived for a time in the same neighborhood. In his foreword to Poems, Manolis relates that he viewed him as a comrade, one whose “work resonated with our intense passion for our motherland and also in our veracity and strong-willed quest to find justice for all Greeks.” In Poems, Manolis chose to honor Ritsos first by not just picking and choosing a few titles to translate, although that might have been far easier. Instead, he undertook the complex task of translating fifteen entire books of Ritsos work-an endeavor that took years of meticulous research and patience. It should be noted that along with the translation, edited by Apryl Leaf, that he also includes a significant Introduction that gives a reader unfamiliar with Ritsos an excellent background on the poet from his own perspective. Dated according to when Ritsos composed them, it’s fascinating to see how some days were especially productive for him. These small details are helpful in understanding the context and meaning. For example, in Notes on the Margins of Time, written from 1938-1941, Ritsos explores the forces of war that are trickling into even the smallest villages. Without direct commentary, he alludes to trains, blood, and the sea that takes soldiers away, seldom to return. Playing an active role in these violent times, the moon observes all, and even appears as a thief ready to steal life from whom it is still new. From “In the Barracks”:

The moon entered the barracks It rummaged in the soldiers’ blankets Touched an undressed arm Sleep Someone talks in his sleep Someone snores A shadow gesture on the long wall The last trolley bus went by Quietness

Can all these be dead tomorrow? Can they be dead from right now?

A soldier wakes up He looks around with glassy eyes A thread of blood hangs from the moon’s lips

In Romiosini, the postwar years are a focus (1945-1947), and they have not been kind. The seven parts to this piece each reflect a soldier’s journey home.

These trees don’t take comfort in less sky These rocks don’t take comfort under foreigners’ Footsteps These faces don’t’ take comfort but only In the sun These hearts don’t take comfort except in justice.

The return to his country is marked by bullet-ridden walls, burnt-out homes, decay, and the predominantly female populace, one that still hears the bombs falling and the screams of the dead as they dully gaze about, looking for fathers, husbands, and sons. The traveler’s journey is marked by introspection and grim memories reflected on to the surfaces of places and things he thought he knew.

And now is the time when the moon kisses him sorrowfully Close to his ear The seaweed the flowerpot the stool and the stone ladder Say good evening to him And the mountains the seas and cities and the sky Say good evening to him And then finally shaking the ash off his cigarette Over the iron railing He may cry because of his assurance He may cry because of the assurance of the trees and The stars and his brothers

An entirely different feeling is found in Parentheses, composed 1946-1947. In it, healing is observed and a generosity of spirit exerts itself among those whose hearts had been previously crushed. In “Understanding”:

A woman said good morning to someone – so simple and natural Good morning… Neither division nor subtraction To be able to look outside Yourself-warmth and serenity Not to be ‘just yourself’ but ‘you too’ A small addition A small act of practical arithmetic easily understood…

On the surface, it may appear simple, a return to familiarity that may have been difficulty in times of war. Yet on another level, he appears to be referring to the unity among the Greek people-the ‘practical arithmetic’ that kept them united though their political state was volatile. Essentially timeless, his counsel goes far beyond nationalism.

Moonlight Sonata, written in 1956, is an impossibly romantic and poignant lyric poem that feels more like a short story. In it, a middle-aged woman talks to a young man in her rustic home. As he prepares to leave, she asks to walk with him a bit in the moonlight. “The moon is good –it doesn’t show my gray hair. The moon will turn my hair gold again. You won’t see the difference. Let me come with you”

Her refrain is repeated over and over as they walk, with him silent and her practically begging him to take her away from the house and its memories:

I know that everyone marches to love alone Alone to glory and to death I know it I tried it It’s of no use Let me come with you

The poem reveals her memories as well as his awkward silence, yet at the end of their journey, she doesn’t leave. Ritsos leaves the ending open: was it a dream? If not, why did she not go? What hold did the house have over her? Was it just the moonlight or a song on the radio that emboldened her?

In 1971, Ritsos wrote The Caretaker’s Desk in Athens, where he was under surveillance but essentially free. At this time he seems to be translating himself-that of how he was processing his own personal history. Already acclaimed for his work, perhaps he was uncertain of his own identity.

From “The Unknown”,

He knew what his successive disguises stood for (even with them often out of time and always vague) A fencer a herald a priest a rope-walker A hero a victim a dead Iphigenia He didn’t know The one he disguised himself as His colorful costumes Pile on the floor covering the hole of the floor And on top of the pile the carved golden mask And in the cavity of the mask the unfired pistol

If he is indeed discussing his identity, it’s with incredible honesty as to both his public persona and his private character. After all, he’d been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968 (and eight more times) and he was likely weighing, in his later years, all that he’d endured.

The beauty of this particular translation is that, while subjects and emotions change over time, they still feel united by the underlying character of Ritsos. Some translators leave their own imprint or influence, yet this feels free of such adjustment. It’s as if Ritsos’ voice itself has been translated, with the pauses, humor, and pace that identify the subtle characteristics of an individual.

~Wikipedia

MYTHOGRAPHY/ΜΥΘΟΓΡΑΦΙΑ

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POEM

A poem I shall become—

said the solitaire rock—

the tree’s mysticism to idolize

its stamina in thrusting

its seed on my barren feet

quotient soil, my resilient company

turning into an exclamation point

sigh on the lips of visitors from

city where poems are hardly found and

rocks with trees such as mine

are impossible to be versed

 

ΠΟΙΗΜΑ

Το ποίημα θα γίνω—

είπε ο έρημος βράχος—

του δέντρου το μυστικισμό να προσκυνήσω

το σθένος του να σπέρνει στ’ άγονα πόδια μου

και στο λιγοστό χώμα το σπόρο του

ακαταμάχητη ευκαμψία που γίνεται

θαυμαστικό στα χείλη επισκεπτών

απ’ την πόλη που ποιήματα δύσκολα γράφονται

και βράχοι με δέντρα σαν και το δικό μου

είναι αδύνατο να γίνουν στίχοι

DEVOTION

Let my arms become a shelter where

the vulnerable will seek refuge—said

the red cedar—the tree of life, call me

in my shade let the birds sing even when

the axe nears my back and falling the mighty

canoe I shall become to travel river-bends

peaceful, tranquil and sοngs of tenderness

I want to hear from moist lips of people in love

ΑΦΟΣΙΩΣΗ

Αφήσετε τα χέρια μου να γίνουν καταφύγιο

να βρουν και θαλπωρή οι αδύναμοι του κόσμου—

ο κοκκινωπός κέδρος ανακοίνωσε—

δέντρο ζωής ας με καλέσουν που επιτρέπω

στα πουλιά να τραγουδούν στον ίσκιο μου

ακόμα κι όταν το τσεκούρι πλησιάζει

στη ράχη μου κι αν πέσω ένα κανώ θα γίνω

για να ταξιδέψω καμπύλες ποταμού και

ειρηνικούς ψαλμούς στοργής ν’ ακούσω

από υγρά χείλη ανθρώπων που αγαπούν

Manolis Aligizakis/Μανώλης Αλυγιζάκης

Βραβείο και Αναγνώρηση/Award and recognition

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The International Academy for the Arts is pleased to announce that Manolis Aligizakis’ translation book “George Seferis-Collected Poems”, Libros Libertad – 2012, has been awarded the 1st International Poetry Prize.

The Academy has also awarded Manolis Aligizakis with an honorary “Masters in Literature.”

Η International Arts Academy ανακοινώνει ότι η μετάφραση του Μανώλη Αλυγιζάκη ποιημάτων του νομπελίστα μας ποιητή ΓιώργουΣεφέρη, “George Seferis-Collected Poems”, Libros Libertad 2012, απέσπασε το πρώτο διεθνές βραβείο ποίησης.

Επίσης η International Arts Academy απονέμει στο Μανώλη Αλυγιζάκη το τιμητικό βραβείο “Master of the Arts in Literature.”

www.artsociety.gr/artacademy

Κωνσταντίνος Καβάφης και Ερωτισμός/Constantine Cavafy and Eroticism

 

Sensuous, erotic, exact Cavafy does not so much tell a story as create an atmosphere, sweeping the reader away on a blue Aegean sea of longing.

The endurance of his work is in his approach, embodying both the immediacy of

the Hellenic past and the direct moment of an imagined erotic encounter.

 

ΣΤΟΥ ΚΑΦΕΝΕΙΟΥ ΤΗΝ ΕΙΣΟΔΟ

 

Τήν προσοχή μου κάτι πού είπαν πλάγι μου

διεύθυνε στού καφενείου τήν είσοδο.

Κ’ είδα τ’ ωραίο σώμα πού έμοιαζε

σάν απ’ τήν άκρα πείρα του νά τώκαμεν ο Έρως—

πλάττοντας τά συμμετρικά του μέλη μέ χαρά

υψώνοντας γλυπτό τό ανάστημα

πλάττοντας μέ συγκίνησι τό πρόσωπο

κι αφίνοντας απ’ τών χεριών τό άγγιγμα

ένα αίσθημα στό μέτωπο, στά μάτια, καί στά χείλη.

 

 

AT THE ENTRANCE OF THE CAFE

 

Something they said at the next table

directed my attention to the café door.

And I saw the beautiful body that looked

like Eros had made it out of his most exquisite experience—

shaping its symmetrical limbs joyfully;

raising its sculptured stature;

transforming the face with emotion

and leaving with the tips of his fingers

a distant nuance on the brow, on the eyes, and on the lips.

 

 

ΜΙΑ ΝΥΧΤΑ

 

Η κάμαρα ήταν πτωχική καί πρόστυχη

κρυμένη επάνω από τήν ύποπτη ταβέρνα.

Απ’ τό παράθυρο φαίνονταν τό σοκάκι

τό ακάθαρτο καί τό στενό. Από κάτω

ήρχονταν η φωνές κάτι εργατών

πού έπαιζαν χαρτιά καί πού γλεντούσαν.

 

Κ’ εκεί στό λαϊκό, τό ταπεινό κρεββάτι

είχα τό σώμα τού έρωτος, είχα τά χείλη

τά ηδονικά καί ρόδινα τής μέθης—

τά ρόδινα μιάς τέτοιας μέθης, πού καί τώρα

πού γράφω, έπειτ’ από τόσα χρόνια,

μές στό μονήρες σπίτι μου, μεθώ ξανά.

 

ONE NIGHT

 

The room was poor and cheap

hidden above the shady tavern.

From the window the street was visible,

narrow and filthy. From below

came the voices of some workers

who played cards and joked around.

 

And there on the much used, lowly bed

I had the body of Eros, I had the lips,

the lustful and rosy lips of euphoria—

the rosy lips of such euphoria, that even now

as I write, after all these years,

in my solitary house, I get intoxicated again.

 

ΕΠΕΣΤΡΕΦΕ

 

 

Επέστρεφε συχνά καί παίρνε με,

αγαπημένη αίσθησις επέτρεφε καί παίρνε με—

όταν ξυπνά τού σώματος η μνήμη,

κ’ επιθυμία παληά ξαναπερνά στό αίμα

όταν τά χείλη καί τό δέρμα ενθυμούνται,

κ’ αισθάνονται τά χέρια σάν ν’ αγγίζουν πάλι.

 

Επέστρεφε συχνά καί παίρνε με τήν νύχτα,

όταν τά χείλη καί τό δέρμα ενθυμούνται…

 

COME BACK

 

Come back often and take me,

beloved sensation, come back and take me—

when the memory in my body awakens,

and the old desire again runs through my blood;

when the lips and the skin remember

and the hands feel as if they were touching again.

 

Come back often and take me at night,

when the lips and the skin remember…

 

ΜΑΚΡΥΑ

 

Θάθελα αυτήν τήν μνήμη νά τήν πω…

Μά έτσι εσβύσθη πιά…σάν τίποτε δέν απομένει—

γιατί μακρυά στά πρώτα εφηβικά μου χρόνια κείται.

 

Δέρμα σάν καμωμένο από ιασεμί…

Εκείνη τού Αυγούστου—Αύγουστος ήταν; —η βραδυά…

Μόλις θυμούμαι πιά τά μάτια ήσαν, θαρρώ, μαβιά…

Α, ναί, μαβιά, ένα σαπφείρικο μαβί.

 

FAR AWAY

 

I would like to tell you a memory…

But it seems nearly erased…and as though nothing remains—

because it lies far away in my youthful years.

 

Skin like it was made of jasmine…

That day in August—was it August?—the night…

I barely remember the eyes; they were, I think, blue…

Ah yes, blue; a sapphire blue.

 

ΟΜΝΥΕΙ

 

Ομνύει κάθε τόσο   ν’ αρχίσει πιό καλή ζωή.

Αλλ’ όταν έλθει η νύχτα    μέ τές δικές της συμβουλές,

μέ τούς συμβιβασμούς της    καί μέ τές υποσχέσεις της

αλλ’ όταν έλθει η νύχτα    μέ τήν δική της δύναμι

τού σώματος πού θέλει καί ζητεί, στήν ίδια

μοιραία χαρά, χαμένος, ξαναπιαίνει.

 

HESWEARS

 

Quite often he swears   to start a better life.

But when the night comes   with its own advisories,

with its compromises,   and with its promises;

when the night comes   with its own power

over the body that craves and seeks,

to the same dark joy, forlorn, he returns.

 

ΕΠΗΓΑ

 

Δέν εδεσμεύθηκα. Τελείως αφέθηκα κ’ επήγα.

Στές απολαύσεις, πού μισό πραγματικές

μισό γυρνάμενες μές στό μυαλό μου ήσαν,

επήγα μές στήν φωτισμένη νύχτα.

Κ’ ήπια από δυνατά κρασιά, καθώς

πού πίνουν οι ανδρείοι τής ηδονής.

 

I WENT

 

I did not restrain myself.

I set myself entirely free and I went.

To the pleasures that were half real,

half turning around inside my mind,

I went to the illuminated night.

And I drank strong wines, like the ones

those who are unafraid of carnal delights drink.

 

 

English translation by Manolis Aligizakis

www.libroslibertad.ca

www.ekstasiseditions.com

Tasos Livaditis-Selected Poems/Τάσος Λειβαδίτης, Εκλεγμένα Pοιήματα

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For a Woman

Do you remember the nights? To make you laugh I’d walk

over the glass of the night lamp.

“How was it possible?” You asked.

But it was so simple:

since you loved me

Σέ μιά γυναίκα

Θυμάσαι τίς νύχτες; Γιά νά σέ κάνω νά γελάσεις περπατούσα πάνω

στο γυαλί τής λάμπας.

“Πώς γίνεται;” ρωτούσες. Μά ήταν τόσο απλό

αφού μ’ αγαπούσες.

Simple Words

The night almost same as all others: tediousness,

the faint light, lost paths

and suddenly someone says “I’m poor”, as though giving you

a great promise.

 

Απλά Λόγια

Βράδυ όμοιο σχεδόν μέ τ’ άλλα: η πλήξη, λιγοστό φώς,

οι χαμένοι δρόμοι

κι άξαφνα κάποιος πού σού λέει “είμαι φτωχός”, σάν νά

σού δίνει μιά μεγάλη υπόσχεση.

The Defeated

He kneeled and laid his forehead on the floor. It was

the difficult time. When he got up, his embarrassed face,

that we all knew, had stayed there, on the planks, like

a useless upside helmet.

The same man returned home, without face—like God.

Ο Ηττημένος

Γονάτισε κι ακούμπησε τό μέτωπό του στό πάτωμα. Ήταν

η δύσκολη ώρα. Κι όταν σηκώθηκε, το ντροπιασμένο πρόσωπό του,

πού όλοι ξέραμε, είχε μείνει εκεί, πάνω στίς σανίδες, σάν ένα

αναποδογυρισμένο άχρηστο κράνος.

Ο ίδιος γύριζε σπίτι του τώρα δίχως πρόσωπο—σάν τό Θεό.

Pigsty

Things had changed, these days they don’t kill, they only

point at you with the finger, it’s enough. Then, they make

a circle that always becomes smaller, they slowly get closer,

you retreat, back against the wall, until in desperation, you,

alone, open a hole to hide into.

When the circle is cleared, in its place stands the other,

in every respect lovable man.

Χοιροστάσιο

Είχαν αλλάξει οι καιροί, τώρα δέ σκότωναν, σ’ έδειχναν μόνο μέ

τό δάχτυλο, κι αυτό αρκούσε. Ύστερα, κάνοντας έναν κύκλο πού

όλο στένευε, σέ πλησίαζαν σιγά σιγά, εσύ υποχωρούσες, στριμω-

χνόσουνα στόν τοίχο, ώσπου, απελπισμένος, άνοιγες μόνος σου μιά

τρύπα νά χωθείς.

Κι όταν ο κύκλος διαλυόταν, στή θέση του στεκόταν ένας άλλος,

καθ’ όλα αξιαγάπητος κύριος.

The Sixth Day

It was the sixth day of creation; mother was dressed in black,

she wore her good hat with the veil, “God shouldn’t had done this

to us” she said, at the far end pale workers put together the big

stage of the circus,

“come back home, it’s late”, “which home?” I asked and hugged

the lamp-post of the street,

my young cousin was almost dead, I pushed her behind the closet,

“I love you” she’d say, but I had already undressed her—like a whore—

when we buried her, I stayed there forever, behind the closet, half

eaten by the mice

and it was the sixth day of creation,

pulleys grunted as they lifted up the roof of the station

the first clock,

I sat by the side of the street, so sorry, that even the blind

could see me.

Η Έκτη Ημέρα

Ήταν η έκτη μέρα τής δημιουργίας, η μητέρα είχε ντυθεί στά

μαύρα, φορούσε καί τό καλό καπέλο της μέ τό βέλο, “δέν έπρεπε νά

μάς τό κάνει αυτό ο Θεός” είπε, στό βάθος χλωμοί άντρες στήναν

τή μεγάλη σκηνή τού τσίρκου,

“γύρισε σπίτι είναι αργά”, “ποιό σπίτι», είπα κι αγκάλιασα το

φανάρι τού δρόμου,

η μικρή ξαδέλφη όπου νά `ναι θά πέθαινε, τήν έσπρωξα πίσω απ’

τήν ντουλάπα, “σ’ αγαπάω” έλεγε, μά εγώ τήν έγδυνα κιόλας σάν

πόρνη—κι όταν τή θάψαμε, εγώ έμεινα γιά πάντα εκεί, πίσω απ’

τήν ντουλάπα, μισοφαγωμένος απ’ τά ποντίκια,

κι ήταν η έκτη μέρα τής δημιουργίας,

οι τροχαλίες γλύριζαν καθώς ανέβαζαν τό πρώτο ρολόι στή στέ-

γη τού σταθμού,

κάθισα στήν άκρη τού δρόμου, τόσο θλιμμένος, πού οι τυφλοίμ’

έβλεπαν.